Although as of 2021, possessing a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics is sufficient in order to become a Registered Dietitian or Registered Dietitian Nutritionist regulated by the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR), this won’t always be the case. As of January 1, 2024, the CDR will require at least a master’s degree in order to sit for the national credentialing examination that you must pass in order to become a RDN. You must still graduate from a school that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND), complete a dietetic internship, and pass the CDR registration exam, but will no longer be able to hold just a bachelor’s degree to qualify for RDN credentialing.
This is just one reason that many who are interested in nutrition and dietetics are opting to get a master’s degree instead of a bachelor’s degree. Degree programs are available both on-campus and online (and in a hybrid combination of both), making studying for your master’s degree in nutrition flexible and adaptable to almost any schedule. We will discuss what a master’s degree in nutrition can do for you in this article.
What You Can Do With a Master’s Degree in Nutrition over a Bachelor’s Degree
The primary justification for getting a master’s degree in nutrition and dietetics instead of a bachelor’s degree is the imminent change in CDR’s requirements. Many entities that hire registered dietitians/registered dietitian nutritionists will be looking for applicants with graduate-level education in order to compete with others in the marketplace. Those with graduate degrees in nutrition presumably have more knowledge about nutrition across the lifespan, which is sorely needed right now.
The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (NCCDPHP) notes that good nutrition is vital for Americans to remain healthy throughout their lives. Most Americans aren’t getting enough nutritional value in their diets, however. Only one out of every 10 adolescents and adults eat enough fruits and vegetables daily, per the NCCDPHP. One-third of American adults are obese, a condition associated with diseases like heart disease and diabetes.
Masters-trained nutritionists and dietitians are necessary to help educate Americans on healthier eating habits and, thus, help us to live longer, happier, healthier and more productive lives. Others who might pursue master’s degrees in nutrition include medical professionals who want to know more about nutrition, like doctors, nurses, and physician’s assistants. These medical professionals understand that nutrition is the foundation of good health and wish to become more educated about it.
Whatever your reason for pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition, there are plenty of ways to do so. We will discuss these options further later in this article.
Nutrition Careers Available for Master’s Degree Holders
Some careers are available to those who hold bachelor’s degrees in nutrition and dietetics, but are much easier to enter into with a graduate degree. As mentioned earlier, the CDR will soon require all Registered Dietitians (RD) and Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN) to hold a master’s degree, at minimum, in order to be credentialed. Those holding a master’s degree in nutrition also have career options such as:
- Clinical Dietitian
- Registered Dietitian
- Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
- Certified Nutrition Specialist
- Sports Nutritionist
- Exercise Science Physiologist
- Project Manager
- Public Health Nutritionist
- Oncology Nutritionist
- Pediatric Nutritionist
- Nutrition Educator
Find Master’s Degree Nutrition Program Info for Your State
The following bachelors and Master’s programs offer career-focused instruction delivered by trained nutritionists with experience in the field. Find out more what each individual course of study offers through the locations below.
Purdue Global's Bachelor of Science in Nutrition Program is an approved holistic nutrition education program through the National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP).
American University offers two different programs focused on Nutrition and Health. Their Online Master of Science in Nutrition Education will prepare you to become an influential leader in nutrition education and advocacy while promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices in your community and beyond. Or Earn your Master of Science in Health Promotion Management from AU’s award-winning program in just 20 months with $10K available in scholarships upon enrollment (qualifier is a 3.0 GPA).
UNC's MPH Nutrition concentration prepares students to provide, evaluate and communicate nutritional and dietary guidance that improves individual and population-wide health outcomes. In addition to developing their knowledge of nutrition science, students will explore behavior change, communication, counseling and the effects of dietary culture on individuals and communities.
Bay Path University's health and wellness certificates build the knowledge, skills, and experience you need to upskill your abilities in your profession or to provide a robust concentration to your degree program for a specific role. Learn more about the Certificate in Food Science and Safety certificate.
If you want to work in fitness and nutrition, take the first step toward a new career with one of Penn Foster's accredited, online fitness and training programs. These affordable programs are all offered online, and can be taken at your own pace.
Grand Canyon University offers an M.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics.
Winthrop University offers an Online Master of Science in Human Nutrition and an Online Master of Science in Sport and Fitness Administration
Examples of Master’s Degree Programs in Nutrition and Dietetics
Master’s degrees in nutrition/nutrition and dietetics are available as on-campus, online or hybrid programs. If you are looking to become an RD or RDN, make sure that the degree program you choose holds accreditation through ACEND. Here are some examples of all three kinds of programs (on-campus, online and hybrid) that are accredited by ACEND:
- Master of Science in Dietetics and Nutrition – University of Alaska Anchorage, AK – a hybrid program with online and on-campus classes, as well as in-person supervised experiential learning rotations in Alaska
- Master of Public Health in Nutrition – Northern Arizona University, AZ – on-campus, residential program
- Master of Science in Clinical Nutrition – University of the Pacific, CA – hybrid program
- Master of Science in Nutrition Education – American University – online program (not ACEND-accredited, but prepares you to take the Certified Nutrition Specialist exam for CNS credentialing)
Coursework and Internship in a Master’s Degree Program in Nutrition
Your courses will vary depending upon the scope of your master’s degree program in nutrition. If you are training to become an RD/RDN, you will also complete a dietetic internship. Many other graduate programs in nutrition will also require experiential learning programs. Classes may include:
- Organic Chemistry
- Human Physiology
- Introduction to Public Health
- Nutrition Assessment
- Food Science
- Metabolic Integration
- Clinical Nutrition
- Foodservice Operations Management
- Nutrition Education & Counseling
- Advanced Food Production & Service Management
ACEND stipulates that those seeking the RDN credential also complete a dietetic internship. This is a supervised experiential practice of at least 1000 hours. Depending upon your program, you may complete rotations in medical nutrition therapy, community nutrition and education, food systems management, and research.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree in Nutrition?
The length of time it will take you to complete a master’s degree in nutrition will vary, of course, depending upon your other commitments, such as whether you work full-time or part-time. Some programs can be completed in as little as one year, but most master’s level programs will take a minimum of two years to complete.
Credentialing and Specialization for Nutrition and Dietetics Master’s Degree Holders
Many who earn a master’s degree in nutrition will seek the RDN credential, provided that they have completed an ACEND-accredited program and passed the CDR exam. If you do seek their certification, you may also wish to specialize in certain areas they offer, such as renal nutrition, oncology nutrition and pediatric nutrition. Each of these has its own educational, experiential, and examination requirements in order to be credentialed within that area.
Other credentialing for master’s-level nutritionists is offered through the following organizations:
- Clinical Nutrition Certification Board- offers Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN) certification
- Board of Certification for Nutrition Specialists – offers Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential
Salaries and Job Outlook for Master’s Degree in Nutrition Holders
As of May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported an average salary of $65,620 for RDs/RDNs. Jobs for RDs and RDNs, as well as nutritionists and dietitians of all types, are expected to increase by 11 percent between 2020 and 2030.* Often, masters-level nutritionists and dietitians earn more than their counterparts who hold just a bachelor’s degree. As the master’s degree becomes the standard for RDs and RDNs, their salary will likely increase.
*2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for dietitians and nutritionists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2022.